One year after the dam explosion in Ukraine


Standing in the remains of her home, partially destroyed by a Russian artillery strike, Raisa Abramtseva painted a bleak picture of her daily life in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson.

“Nowhere to live, no water,” she said, summarizing the daily affairs of her village of Novovorontsovka, which regularly faces Russian bombings and continues to suffer the consequences of the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam an years ago.

In the early hours of June 6, 2023, the massive Soviet-era dam was blown up, sending billions of liters of water flowing downstream and flooding dozens of villages on the banks of the vast Dnipro River.

Kiev said Russia, whose forces controlled the dam at the time, blew it up to thwart a Ukrainian counter-offensive. Moscow blamed Ukraine.

Dozens of people were killed in the flooding that followed the blast, which also caused massive and likely permanent environmental damage in southern Ukraine.

Novovorontsovka, which is located upstream from the dam on the banks of the Kakhovka reservoir, faces the opposite problem of the settlements downstream: a lack of previously abundant water.

The level of reservoirs dropped by almost 20 meters, said Sergiy Pylypenko, head of the municipal company responsible for water supply.

The systems they once used to collect water no longer work.

“And then there are the hostilities, which completely destroyed one of our pumping stations,” he added.

Carrying out repair work on the banks of the reservoir – a natural frontline between Ukrainian forces on the western bank and the Russians entrenched in the east – is too dangerous.

“The crew and the equipment involved will not live much longer,” Pylypenko said.

– ‘Wanted to go home’ –

Abramtseva, 68, is just one of hundreds of thousands of people who, according to the Environment Ministry, lost all or part of access to clean drinking water last year, which the ministry calls “an immediate danger to their lives and health.”

Leaning on a walking stick and followed by a gray kitten, Abramtseva said she was determined to return to the village despite the challenges.

She left after the Russian attack on her home in 2022, but soon returned and now lives in a nearby building that was renovated on her shoestring budget and has no proper ceiling.

Even though her new home resembles a “barn,” she said she felt compelled to return.

“I wanted to go home,” she told AFP.

Obtaining clean drinking water for Abramtseva and others is no easy feat.

An authority truck weaves through the village offering people to fill their water tanks for a fee.

The driver must avoid being targeted by Russian drones that often lurk overhead, ready to drop grenades and explosives at any moment.

– ‘Nothing good’ –

Downstream from the dam, problems persist in Kherson’s Korabel district, an island south of the city that was completely submerged.

The water has receded, but the impact can be seen as soon as the taps are turned on.

“The water is brown,” says Natalia Biryuk (67).

Power outages are also common – following two years of Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities.

“Sometimes there is light, sometimes there is not,” she added.

“There’s nothing good here. And they’re shooting at us every day.”

Some on the island – just four miles from Russian forces – tried to put on a brave face.

“Our neighborhood is still alive,” local resident Valery Biryukov, 67, told AFP.

‘But the people are no longer there. They all left,” he admitted.

– ‘Restore our Ukraine’ –

There was silence in the air in the streets of Korabel. The few who ventured outside were mainly older retirees. Most of the area’s pre-war residents have left.

Lyudmila Batovrina, a 63-year-old woman wearing a T-shirt with a shiny Louis Vuitton logo, says only seven of the forty apartments in her building are occupied.

Next to a bomb shelter, a handful of street vendors sold strawberries and homemade yogurt and cheese.

It is one of the last remaining shopping options.

There are no banks, schools and hardly any doctors, residents say.

“They come here to buy something and then run home,” said Lyudmila Kyrzhnyr, a 55-year-old vegetable seller.

After the floods, she had to throw everything out of her ground-floor apartment.

About 12 months later, it still smells like mold, she said.

The water from the taps also ‘stinks’.

“I heat the water in a pot and the top becomes covered with a brown film,” she said.

When asked why they did not join the majority in leaving, the remaining residents of the neighborhood have a simple answer.

“We have nowhere to go. Nobody needs us anywhere,” Kyrzhnyr said.

But, she added, it’s not just a lack of alternatives that keeps her here.

“We still have to live, and we have to restore our Ukraine.”


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